Skip to main content

New York Times: A survivor's retelling of an ISIS massacre

By Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 1:25 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
  • Ali Hussein Kadhim recounts ISIS massacre in New York Times
  • He tells Times he survived by feigning death
  • ISIS uses brutality as calling card, often purposely capturing atrocities on video

(CNN) -- Ali Hussein Kadhim was not supposed to live to tell his story or that of the hundreds of other Iraqi soldiers and Shiites who were massacred in June by ISIS militants in Tikrit.

But on the execution line that day the bullet destined for him whizzed past his head and he fell forward feigning to be fatally wounded. Kadhim lived to tell his story to the New York Times, which produced a gripping video offering a rare survivor's retelling of one of countless massacres carried out by the brutal Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

"It took 23 days from the day of the massacre until he was reunited with his family," Adam Ellick, a senior video journalist for the New York Times, told CNN Thursday. "I think the best way I would describe it is a combination Schindler's List-style escape and an Underground Railroad of local Samaritans sort of putting humanity before everything else."

Brutality has become a propaganda tool for the militants. It has included processions of soldiers making their way across the desert in their underwear before facing a hail of bullets, the beheading of American journalists and even crucifixions. The militants often capture the killings on videos distributed throughout the world like bloody calling cards of their cruel campaign.

Kadhim shares ISIS survival tale with New York Times

Kadhim, 23, is the rare witness. Pretending to be dead among a pile of bodies, Kadhim told the Times that he waited for hours until he was able to escape.

"It's one of those stories where every time you feel relaxed something else bad happens to Ali," Ellick said.

ISIS claimed it killed 1,700 Shiite soldiers that day, making the killings the deadliest sectarian atrocity in Iraq's recent history, according to the Times.

On the video, Kadhim points to a computer screen showing footage of him among the pile of bodies during the Tikrit massacre.

"This is me," he said. "I'm 100% sure. Not only 100%. A million percent."

Kadhim was fourth in line for execution. The bullet buzzed past his head. His face already was splattered with the blood of others. He feigned death.

"I thought it was the end," he told the Times. "There was nothing more to fear. But then I remembered my family. ... Who will care for them?"

That gave him a will to live.

Said Ellick: "He got lucky and I think his desperation worked in his favor."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:39 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The latest ISIS-appointed governor of Mosul was killed in coalition airstrikes on Christmas Day, according to Iraqi police.
updated 11:56 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
A coalition pilot was captured by ISIS after a Jordanian military plane crashed in Syria.
updated 8:50 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Author Juergen Todenhoefer says ISIS are "more dangerous than people realize."
updated 10:47 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
There's yet another new name for ISIS among those fighting against the terror group. Daesh.
updated 8:30 PM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
The FBI warns U.S military that ISIS are looking for individuals who may be interested in carrying out attacks on home soil.
updated 11:07 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Iraq's Prime Minister says there is evidence of 50,000 soldiers being paid while inactive.
updated 6:17 PM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Pentagon insider Ashton Carter is expected to be President Barack Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary.
updated 6:32 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Wolf Blitzer talks to Rep. Ed Royce about the White House's new ISIS strategy that involves removing Bashar al-Assad.
updated 6:36 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
Just two weeks ago, Yasir was regularly strapped into an explosive vest and handed guns and a radio to stand guard at an ISIS base in Syria.
updated 5:49 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
How did three U.S. teenagers become radicalized? CNN's Pamela Brown reports.
updated 9:26 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Reza Aslan examines the appeal of ISIS and why the group is able to successfully attract so many recruits.
updated 9:18 AM EST, Mon November 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh takes a look at how ISIS is using media to desensitize children.
updated 7:33 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
A new propaganda video from ISIS features a Canadian ISIS member who died in combat.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.